For all the years I’ve gone to Disneyland I’ve never had a Thanksgiving dinner outside of the parks. I’ve had a glorious turkey dinner at the Plaza Inn, non-traditional clam chowder at the Royal Street Veranda, and chowed down on the complimentary Cast Member meal when I was an attractions hostess. Busy Bumble and I decided to change that by getting reservations to the biggest Thanksgiving celebration at the resort: the Disneyland Hotel’s Thanksgiving Feast.
When I say big I mean BIG. This is a nearly all-day event with reservations snatched up well in advance (reservations start in September some years). The venue is the biggest ballroom in the Disneyland Hotel’s convention center and it is filled to the brim with food, characters, entertainment, and eager diners. The meal is all-you-care-to-enjoy and no one will judge you for getting seconds, thirds, or fifths on anything. The only thing that doesn’t come with your meal is alcohol after your first complimentary cocktail.
This is a big production with nearly as many Cast Members as diners. We saw large family groups going in (the largest we saw was 15 but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn larger groups had come and gone) as well as small groups and single diners. For many this is a tradition the family enjoys year after year and I can certainly understand the appeal. The chance to have great food, decor, entertainment, and service without having to clean up or fuss with family drama was a big reason why Busy Bumble and I made to decision to pony up big bucks to overeat with Mickey and friends.
As I said before reservations are highly prized. Check the Disney Parks Blog, Disney Food Blog, and other sites to see if anyone has a hint of when reservations will open up. I wish I could say it was always the same time every year, but it does seem to change from year to year. Waiting even a few minutes could cost you the time slot you want, so be ready when the reservations open. There isn’t a bad time to reserve per se, but consider carefully if you have any other activities or travel plans for the day. Busy Bumble and I planned on a later meal since we were betting on people eating earlier in the day, but we made sure not to get the very end of the night since we wanted to go back to the parks afterwards.
You will need to pay in advance for your reservations and they aren’t cheap. The experience includes your food, beverages including a complimentary special cocktail for adults, a commemorative button (while supplies last, and this is a button like the “I’m Celebrating” discs and not a Trading Pin), and valet parking for 4 hours. There is no gratuity to worry about unless you want to leave a little something for your server on your table when you leave. I won’t name the price but you are looking at over $100 per person for this event, so take that into consideration especially if dining with a large group.
Now, what is it like?
Don’t look for signs to guide you from Downtown Disney to the feast. There won’t be any. Just know that you’re headed to the convention center’s ground level ballroom and look for people dressed nicely. If you’re coming from Downtown Disney like we did you’ll enter the building through the doors that lead to Goofy’s Kitchen and Steakhouse 55 then turn right. You’ll notice more festive decor and large crowds gathered. This means you’re in the right place.
Crowd management is tightly choreographed. When you approach the door to check in a Cast Member will ask what time your reservation is for. Come too early and you’ll be asked to wait to even check in. Read the confirmation email you receive from Disney to check for guidance on when to arrive.
Once allowed to check in you’ll find Cast Members stationed at tables, each with an iPad to check your party in and go over any allergy/dietary issues. After they’ve taken your information you’ll be directed to the waiting area.
In the waiting area are tables and chairs as you wait for your party to be called to dine. There are some complimentary beverages as you wait: water, coffee, tea, and cocoa. There’s a photo area staged for the holiday so you can get those pictures before you get your food. For families there is a stroller parking area and a separate children’s room for them to wait in if so desired.
The children’s room has a movie constantly playing, comfy chairs to rest in and some pint-sized tables with crafts to keep little ones occupied. Wait times can be unpredictable since you aren’t reserving a particular time so much as a place in line (much like the rest of Disney Dining, your reservation time is when you show up and you will be given the next available table after any others ahead of you).
We probably waited about 15 minutes before our party was called up. We had some very large parties ahead of us and they will seat each group as a table of appropriate size opens up. I was tickled by the hostess who announced each party formally like we were guests at a ball. Once you approach the podium a cheerful Cast Member will show you into the ballroom to your table.
The room is massive and is full of people, food, and decorations. That being said it was actually very easy to navigate and we never had any traffic problems. You’ll be guided to your table and in short time your server will greet you. Your server can help orient you to what’s in the room, take care of any special requests, and is responsible for your drinks. If you’re of age and would like to imbibe the complimentary cocktail make sure to let your server know.
There is no canned music in this joint. You’ll have live entertainment throughout your meal. The band plays a great mix of music including Disney tunes for the fans. Periodically characters will come out to play with the band and there are also interludes where the band asks the audience to dance or sing along. Guests were game to get in on the action and everyone had a great time that didn’t involve stuffing your face. For those who want to grab food from the food station around the stage be forewarned that crowds do form to listen/dance/interact with the band and this can be a hazard if you have your hands full of food (try dodging toddlers with a bowl of hot pumpkin soup).
Nearly the entire ballroom is used for dining. The tables are a mix of sizes and shapes to best take advantage to the space and seat as many people comfortably as possible. Most tables have easy access to a clear path but if you’re seated in the middle like we were just be courteous and careful as you move around the seats and tables.
There are actually three food stations throughout the ballroom, so you’re never far from food. After your server has taken your drink orders I recommend taking a moment to go around the ballroom to orient yourself and see what the best plan of attack would be. The food station closest to the stage was busiest since it was the first one you see once you enter. The middle station is easier to get your savory foods from but the dessert station is very busy. There is another station at the far end as well as stations along the sides of the room. We found that we didn’t mind the walk if the line was shorter farther away.
Now the food…
There is more food than you could possibly try in one sitting without getting sick. There’s just about something for everyone and if there isn’t there’s a kitchen backstage to whip something up for you if you ask. Everything was fresh, flavorful, and fun.
The stations are set up with sections for appetizers, bread, salads and cold dishes, soups, carved meats, sides, ready-to-eat desserts, chocolate fondue, and made-to-order crepes. You’ll want to survey your options before sampling because you may be surprised by what you’ll find and you may want to leave some room for sampling.
Appetizers, Cold Foods, and Salads
First Course and Entrees
It’s very easy to go haywire at the appetizer section. There is simply so much to try and it all looks good. My mother may frown but I skipped the salads in favor of some indulgences. The seafood was excellent and I know more than one guest had their plates piled high with crab legs. The charcuterie was nice to nibble on although I’ve been spoiled by the spread at the California Grill’s brunch. Hands down the best starter was the pumpkin soup. This velvety concoction tasted like liquid pie filling. I could have eaten this alone all night.
For my main plate I stuck with more traditional foods. The stuffing was okay but nothing can replace homemade. The mashed potatoes were much better. Made from real potatoes and loaded with butter these were phenomenal and paired well with the turkey gravy. The steamed veggies would have just been the mandatory green on my plate except that they had Brussels sprouts. Roasted to sweet perfection these elevated the veggies, although I noticed that kids were taking the opportunity to avoid the veggies. The meats were divine. If you’ve ever eaten at the Storyteller’s Cafe for dinner these will be a little familiar. The beef was a perfect medium rare (ask for an end if you want it more well done) and the turkey was moist, not dry. The gravy was a favorite and tasted pretty darn close to my father’s recipe, full of giblets.
I’m a sweets lover and the feast did not disappoint at the end. Although it was difficult to remember to save some room, the beautiful array of treats was a constant reminder that I couldn’t leave without something sugary to end my meal.
The dessert section was split into three parts: the ready-to eat sweets, the chocolate fondue fountain, and the crepes station. Because the crepes took a little longer to prepare a line could form at times, but the Cast Members always tried to keep those crepes coming. The chocolate fondue fountain was manned by a Cast Member to prevent guests from contaminating the chocolate, which I appreciated.
Dessert was very popular and Cast Members do their best to keep items stocked, but there were times that certain desserts ran out. Since everything except the parfait and panna cotta were meant to be served at room temperature there’s no harm in picking out a plate of your choices as you see them earlier in your meal.
As you can see there are a lot of desserts to try and all of them are good. There’s quite the spread so if you didn’t save room then you’ll miss out. The mix is a good balance of old favorites and new flavors. For those that want a simpler treat I suggest sticking with the chocolate fondue. The crepe line could get long, but that’s another option if fall flavors aren’t your thing.
I was stuffed after so much food so I had fewer sweets than I would have liked, but what I ate was very good nonetheless. The only dessert that was less than stellar was the pumpkin pie tart. This little guy looked good but just didn’t wow me. As a baker myself I think I could have whipped up something better at home, but when you’re cooking for thousands something has to be a little less somewhere. The Bourbon pecan whoopie pie was my way of getting some pecan pie action in there. It had a very mild sweetness. Although it doesn’t taste like pecan pie it was a fun addition to the plate. I had to get another helping of sweet potato casserole since it was so good, even though it isn’t strictly dessert. The apricot panna cotta was a refreshing change from so much sugary sweetness. The custard itself is flecked with vanilla beans and holds up nicely to the apricot compote on top. I would have maybe liked a little less apricot and little more custard myself. My favorite was the gingerbread-berry parfait. It had a distinct gingerbread flavor (a nice mix of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, butter, and something baked good-like) and actually paired well with the berry flavor. Plus there was an adorable tiny macaron on top.
What would this feast be without characters? There are two sections on either end of the ballroom that have characters where guests can take pictures, have their pictures taken, or just hang out. The Fab Five characters rotate to play with the band so you might not see them at their photo stations all the time.
By far the more popular area is where Minnie Mouse plays hostess. A prop Thanksgiving meal has been set up and classic characters including the Fab Five are there in seasonal costumes. The line for these characters was very long, with some people heading straight there for their photos before eating. Characters rotated in and out so not everyone gets a photo with the same characters. Mickey did show up for a time but most of the day it will be Minnie greeting guests. PhotoPass Cast Members are there ready to take photos but there is no photo-op included in your meal. If you want a picture make sure to bring a camera or phone.
On the other side of the ballroom is a more assorted group of characters that rotated in and out throughout the day. While we were there we saw Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and Brer Fox of Song of the South/Splash Mountain fame, Big Al (one of my favorite characters ever!) and some of the other bears from the Bear Country Jamboree, and Pocahontas with Meeko. A few other guests mentioned seeing Robin Hood and Little John earlier in the day. This was a great opportunity to get photos with characters that rarely make an appearance in the park. More than one child stared in confusion at Big Al while their parents explained about a long-lost attraction involving singing bears. Because there were fewer people over here that meant shorter waits to interact with the characters and longer interactions in general. The characters and Cast Members were also very entertaining to watch even with no guests around since they would play around with each other, something you rarely see in the parks.
At the end of the night we still made it to Disneyland but we were stuffed. The Thanksgiving Feast is definitely worth it for foodies and Disney fans. Come hungry and ready for a relaxing meal. We will be back in the future, hopefully with more friends and family in tow.